Category Archives: Making Progress as a Writer

Intro to Guerrilla Marketing

The tune here in June is all about unique or unusual ways to get your writing noticed by others. The term you hear frequently in seminars, online self-marketing videos, writing groups, and in interviews with successful authors is “guerrilla marketing.”

No, that doesn’t mean hiring Jane Goodall.

Does everyone still know who Jane Goodall is?

On second thought, hiring Jane Goodall as a guerrilla marketer might be a brilliant example of exactly what we’re talking about. Hmmm…..

And, yes, I know Jane Goodall is a chimpanzee researcher, and chimpanzees aren’t gorillas. Also gorillas aren’t guerrillas.

One thing worth doing on this opening month post is talking about some things that you definitely shouldn’t do in your attempts to get the word out. Things like:

  • Using social media to spam “buy my book!” messages to everyone on the planet.
  • Buying mailing lists and sending out “buy my book!” emails to random strangers.
  • Offering to swap reviews with other authors to get review counts up.
  • Paying for reviews (with a few exceptions, specifically Kirkus Reviews).

I’ll relate one example that I very strongly considered doing when I self-published my first book, and probably should have. At the time I was also moving to a new state halfway across the continent, and looking for a house or a lot to build on. That meant a lot of travelling back and forth between Colorado and Arkansas on interstate highways filled with lots of other drivers.

To make the move as cheaply as possible, I purchased a 6′ x 10′ trailer and walled it in to make it weather-proof so I could move stuff in rain, snow or sunshine. Well, that meant I was practically driving a billboard, or two billboards, across the country. I wish now that I had printed huge posters and plastered them on my trailer with my book cover and some clever marketing slogans.

C’est la vie. Maybe I’ll get another chance. But that’s the sort of thing we’ll be talking about this month.

Revisions, edits and proofing. The real work of writing.

Writing can be, and frequently is, easy. At least that first draft is. Sometimes a writer can fall into a creative “zone” and the words will just flow. And flow. And flow. I’ve seen many, many writers post on Facebook how they churned out 2,000, 3,000, even 4,000 words or more in a day.

I can do that. I do it when I really sit down and write.

But the question isn’t how many words you write in a day. The real question is how many words you’ve written in a day, you keep in the final version of the manuscript.

I tend to view writing as similar in concept to sculpting in clay. First you have to get the clay. That’s the first draft. You have to just keep churning out story elements, characters, plot points, settings, all the stuff that makes up a story. It all piles up into a sort of rough facsimile of the story you really want to tell. Eventually you complete the first draft, and can go grab a beer and congratulate yourself on your pile of clay.

But it’s not half done yet. Unless you are one of those truly rare writers who spew out nearly finished prose. Most of those writers have written and published lots of stories, and have learned how to get that first draft much closer to the final form.

The rest of us have to take that first draft and start turning it into something presentable. And that means taking the editor’s sculpting tools and carving off bits here and there, building up other bits, reshaping a limb or a nose… For many of us that is more of a challenge than the initial fountain of words that leaped up from our keyboards.

But sculpting usually takes several passes, each one more detailed, with more attention to perfecting the form and enhancing the presentation of our work. My approach is to take several editing passes through the, I hope, successively less rough drafts of the story. The first pass mostly focuses on big things. Do the character arcs work? Is the conflict compelling? Does the plot work, or are there gaping holes, or plot points leading to nowhere?

Only when I’ve addressed the story at that level will I do a grammar and spelling pass. Or two. It’s all too common for me to learn that in my first pass, I not only missed a few things, but I added some new errors in fixing the previous ones.

Then I do a pass focused entirely on converting passive to active voice, looking for occurrences of words like “seems” or “realized” or many other words I keep in a list that are all too easy to fall back on while writing, but leave the prose flaccid.

Then I do a pass focused on character dialog. Did I use the right vernacular for the different voices of the different characters? Did I accidentally give my New England bookkeeper the voice of a Louisiana shrimper? It happens more than you realize.

Then I do a pass focused on contractions. It always amazes me how many “can not” or “will not” uses I find in my writing. I know better, but I still find them. Lots of them. Trimming those syllables really tightens the text, especially dialog, where a “will not” comes across as pretentious or commanding.

Finally, when all of that is done, I move the still-rough draft to my iPad so I read it in a different format, and do my best to read it as if I had never encountered it before. I might do that three times before I’m satisfied it’s clean enough to pass my editorial expectations.

Then I send it to an editor.

When Torcs Fly – Celebrating a Launch

When Torcs FlyIt seems we don’t get nearly enough days to celebrate a completed project. We work for weeks, months, and sometimes even years to release a book worthy of our fans. The celebration is never big enough or long enough, but there’s nothing like holding a new book in your hands (even if it’s a kindle copy).

Today is a celebration day!

When Torcs Fly – a Petralist novella – released in ebook form Marcy 30th!

It will release in paperback in May.

Tomas and Cameron enjoy good insults as much as they enjoy great bash fights. These elite fighters and determined goofballs have an unbreakable streak of disrespect and contempt for authority. Even the mighty Captain Rory depends on them.

Their places were not always so secure.

Rewind a few years to the day they first try to win acceptance into the Fast Rollers special-forces company. Their brawn-over-brains approach is exactly the wrong way to make the attempt, and chances of making the team are less than winning a kiss from an angry pedra.

With their most cherished dreams on the line, these two bash fighters must risk thinking deeper thoughts, learn to work together against a band of crafty Grandurians, and prove they’re smarter than the average torc.

Fans of fast-paced, humorous fantasy will love this hilarious adventure.

Check out When Torcs Fly, along with the main Petralist series on Amazon,

or on my website.

Petralist Series 1-3

 

Couch Potato Time For Health and Profit

Finishing a novel is a HUGE achievement (and I’m not just talking about word count). It doesn’t matter if it’s your first or your fiftieth, it’s still a huge weight off your shoulders knowing that the first draft is done. Well, at least it is until you remember that now you have to do revisions and edits.

In my experience, starting all that tough, nit-picky work so soon after finishing the draft isn’t good for you. If I dive back in so soon I get sick of my own work, and sometimes even resent it for depriving me of the time to watch the backlog of shows on my DVR or the cool new thing on Netflix. The last thing I want to happen, is for me to hate my own work for something so petty — especially after all the hard work I put into it. That’s why I treat myself to two things after the completion of the first draft. The first is a tangible treat that somehow ties in to something I love about that particular story. Sometimes it’s a piece of inexpensive jewelry, and sometimes it’s a piece of clothing or art. What’s the second thing?

Nothing.

That’s right. Nothing.

After finishing the first draft I give myself permission to not write or do any other work on that draft for one week. During that week I can veg on the couch and watch as many shows and movies as I want. I can also read as many books in my bedside stack as I want. The obvious reason for this is that I can’t resent my work for keeping me from watching the new season of Forged in Fire if I’ve already watched it. I can’t be tempted by the new lovely in my reading stack if I’ve already read it. Plus the growing backlog of episodes, and the growing stack of awesome books, become the carrots that are dangled before me while I’m working on that initial draft.

The less obvious reason is that it allows the creative side of my brain to rest and renew while the more studious side of my brain can pick apart the plots of the shows and books I’m partaking of. It’s hard, especially after taking one of Dave Wolverton’s writing courses, to turn my brain completely off when taking in a story. It doesn’t matter if the medium is visual, audio, or printed. I can’t stop myself from poking a metaphorical finger at other people’s plot holes, or admiring some great pacing and then reviewing that section over and over to figure out exactly how they did it. So my vacation suddenly becomes an educational experience that can improve my own writing. Yay!

Okay. I realize that it probably looks like a cheat to be studying someone else’s writing when I’m taking a break from writing. Well, it’s not. The break is from my own writing. Besides, heaven forbid I resent my vacation from writing for keeping me from doing the writerly things that I love. If the studious side of my writer brain is busy looking for tropes and Chekov’s arsenal, the rest of me can enjoy the break without conflict.

I also find that one week is the perfect length of time. I can make a noticeable dent in the backlog of stories to partake of, but it’s not so long a break that my readers start to wonder if I’ll ever truly finish my next book.

It can be a tricky balance to maintain — sacrificing for your work without hating the necessity of making sacrifices — but it can be maintained. For me this is one of the small ways I can maintain that balance while preventing burn out. In the spirit of Your Miles May Vary, a shorter or longer interval may work better for you. Instead of TV it may be gaming that you need the break for. I know authors who write short stories between drafting and editing as their break/treat. Whatever works best for you. Burn out and self-resentment are terrible things that have destroyed too many writing careers. It’s important to know what treat you respond best to and to use that to maintain a healthy balance that will keep you engaged and interested in the work now and in the years to come.